Category Archives: 1910s

Where Are My Children? (1916)

In an outrageous attempt to bring abortion and contraception to the front lines of the women’s rights movement,Lois Weber wrote a film about a doctor and a lawyer, and their pursuit of a moral victory.

John Walton is a district attorney prosecuting Dr. Malfit for distributing “indecent” birth control literature. As he sits on the stand, he explains his reasoning. Using eugenics as the foundation for his practice, he explains that contraception and abortion could be used as preventative measures for those who are forced to bring their child into lives of poverty, illness, or an abusive home.

tumblr_mp8osr5f1N1qe6dcpo1_400Little did Walton know that his wife, simply known as “Mrs. Walton,” had used the doctor’s services not one, not two, but three times. The reasoning for this, oddly enough, is not about the inability to provide for the child, but rather to not interrupt Mrs. Walton’s social life with the inconvenience of pregnancy. Mrs. Walton has also suggested the doctor’s services to her many socialite friends.

Mrs. Walton’s brother comes to stay and seduces the maid’s daughter. When she finds that she is pregnant (rather scandalous for 1916), she has an abortion with Dr. Malfit. The operation fails, she’s abandoned by the brother, and she dies of a botched surgery. Immediately the story joins the case against the doctor, and as he is being dragged out of the court room, he insists Mr. Walton look at what problems exist in his own home before he passes judgment on anything else. Mr. Walton looks at the doctor’s ledgers, and surprise, surprise – his wife’s three appointments are marked and dated for “personal services.”

Mr. Walton storms home and asks his wife that heart wrenching question – “Where are my children?!” Since she had visited the doctor so often, she is no longer able to have children. He casts her out, but eventually they reconcile. The film ends with them sitting in front of the fire, aged and alone, with the ghosts of their adult children haunting in the midst of their shadows.

I watched this film over a week ago and still I cannot settle on an opinion. It is difficult for me to decipher where the filmmakers stand on the subject. What I feel I’ve drawn is that Lois Weber was a very liberal, yet Catholic, advocate for sex education. The film is supposed to illustrate abortion as the sinful consequence for uneducated people. That if one knew about the option of contraception, children would not be born into worlds in which they should not and women would not have to commit such “immoral crimes.”

imagesHowever, a wrench is thrown in that theory since all of the women in the film get their abortions so they don’t miss the next house party. It ignores the reality of the heartbreaking struggle that women face everyday.

Lois Weber was mostly right – with the education of contraception and the exposure to the expected responsibility that comes with being sexually active, many abortions would cease to exist. However, this film seems to be suggesting that women today and yesterday, believed that abortion was, in itself, a method of contraception. That I find hard to swallow.

Now, whether you are pro-choice or pro-life, I don’t believe there is any excuse for making the bold generalization that all women are those who take the easy escape.

The general exposure of this in 1916 still has me baffled. It contains an eerie mix ethic dilemmas in which no character is truly justified. It is a strange concoction of a moral high horse and sinful affairs that create a world in which men and women are completely unable to make responsible decisions together.

This review will remain inconclusive, since I am still struggling with resolving my own feelings. Perhaps I’ll wake up one morning and simply get it, but as of right now, I don’t see that happening.

If you’re interested, watch it here. 

Easy Street (1916)

I’m in a film viewing right now, but I just wanted to write a quick note about Easy Street. One of the earlier comedy shorts of his that I’ve seen, it contains the same charm and ridiculousness as ever. What is it about him that makes people love him so? Is it his appearance, his general clumsiness, or his good intentions? I think the combination of the three. I don’t think there’s ever been a character quite like The Tramp, he really was irreplaceable.

Intolerance (1916)

Now this was interesting. Points to Sara for watching her second D.W. Griffith 3 1/2 hour silent film. The important aspect about this film and its title is that when audiences reacted badly to the high levels of racism inBirth of a Nation, Griffith created a follow up film that was meant to demonstrate people’s “intolerance” for others voicing their opinion. Mae Marsh was featured once again (I just read that she was friends with Ginger Rogers, so cool!) as she was in Birth of a Nation. I think I’ve had my fill of Griffith’s long monumental film creations. I’ve paid my dues.

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The Cheat (1915)

The only thing I remember about this film is that there was a big fight, maybe a fire, and a whole lot of blackmail. The male antagonist was Burmese, and this film holds the first interracial kiss to ever be shown in a Hollywood film. So far the films I had seen showed whites as poor victims to these cruel and twisted foreigners. It was the time I suppose, I won’t lie when I say that I was grateful to get outta there.

Birth of a Nation (1915)

Believe it or not, I’ve seen this 3 1/2 hour D.W. Griffith silent film seven times. Not to toot my own horn, but most film buffs haven’t even seen this once. And that is an accomplishment considering the plot line. Short description includes the fact that the Ku Klux Klan are the heroes at the end. Enough said. This film is notorious for being the most racist film ever created. That is an award well deserved. Despite its disgusting themes, this was the longest film ever created at its time. The cinematography was very impressive. What an incredible, horrible film. I think it’s worth seeing for anyone.

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Twenty Minutes of Love (1914)

Another lovely Chaplin short about several ridiculous events happening in a park. Chaplin (still on his way to full fledge Tramp) plays a pickpocket who interrupts many couples’ romantic moments. It concludes with a full on chase scene in which Chaplin is pursued by not only two couples but the police as well.

As mentioned before, I love to see the evolution of the Tramp. He’s starting to discover what is funny about the character: the walk, the falls, the tip of the hat, it’s all a foundation to a truly remarkable character in American film.

Having read Chaplin’s autobiography, it’s also great to hear about these films from the inside view.

Allora, enjoy it here.